I am pondering running a Cthulhu game.

I am pondering running a Cthulhu game.

I am pondering running a Cthulhu game.  There are two salient facts:  (a) CoC has an awesome setting and awful rules, and (b) I’m currently most familiar with the PbtA engine.  Making a Mythos World hack seems pretty straightforward: rename the stats, steal some moves from Apocalypse World and Dungeon World, figure out what to do with Sanity and Magic, copy the list of skills.  I’m not saying I’ve got it quite all figured out yet, but I think I’ve already got something I could run better than I could run by-the-book CoC. The thing I don’t have is a decent system for money and wealth.  

I know I don’t want everyone to have to know exactly how many dollars they have in their wallet, or in their bank account, or trust fund, or what their annual income is.  And since the broke private investigator and the dilletante heiress are both standard CoC characters, I know I need a system that’s approximately equally easy to use for both.

I’m pretty sure that means the wealth rating has to be logarithmic.  (Just abstracting to “1-barter” like AW doesn’t solve anything if one character feels lucky to have 1 or 2 Money Units, while another has an allowance of thousands.)  For items below your current wealth rating, you can just acquire them without worrying about it.  Items above your current wealth are unavailable, or at least require extraordinary effort.  Items at your current wealth might require a roll, where one of the possible outcomes is that you exhaust your funds and have to reduce your wealth level.

It seems like this is likely to be a common issue across any games set in approximately modern worlds, from steampunk to space opera.  I don’t want to go re-inventing it if someone else has already written it, but I’m far from familiar with the full range of *-World hacks out there.  Is anyone aware of one with a working wealth system?

18 thoughts on “I am pondering running a Cthulhu game.”

  1. Hm.  Just read the free playbooks for tremulus, and while it looks interesting, I don’t think it solves the problem I’m talking about.  Characters appear to start with between d6 and 2d6x2 “Wealth”, which appears to be a simple abstraction for dollars.  (The Dilettante is only 4 times wealthier than the Detective?  Hm.)  I’m looking for something more abstracted than that, with an Acquire Crap move possibly modified by your Credit Rating (to use the name from original CoC).  If I’m looking at, say, Masks of Nyarlathotep, someone in the party might want to bankroll an expedition to Africa.  Can they do that?  How about if they want to buy a boat, or pay for a safari?  That’s the kind of mechanic I’m looking for.

  2. Maybe instead of a universal move, your different “buy junk” moves should be rolled into the different playbooks? Like, your wealthy heiress has a move for bankrolling safaris and doesn’t even have to roll for mundane things, while your dead broke detective has to roll to see if he can afford a pack of smokes. It seems like that would be easier than trying to come up with a logarithmic wealth system.

    It would also mean that for characters’ economic situation to change there has to be significant enough fiction to justify taking a multiclass move, rather than they just have to get paid. The detective always gets paid, it just doesn’t make him any less broke at the end of the day.

  3. If you make a hack, instead of health, use a sanity or madness track. Each time you take harm to your sanity, you mark off a check that can never be regained and you have that trait. A few traits might be physical harm, and one would be “my journey has ended”

    [ ] I have a phobia of _______

    [ ] I know a secret no one will believe

    [ ] someone close to me is killed

    [ ] I have gained power of an esoteric force

    Each character class can have some different conditions

  4. Sage LaTorra’s Black Stars Rise is along the lines of what I want.  I’ll borrow some of that and add a bit and here’s a first draft:

    Investigators by default will start with “Comfortable” lifestyle, but you can trade up or down during character creation in exchange for skills, one skill per level.

    ▪ Broke (flophouse)

    ▪ Struggling (spare apartment, bath down the hall)

    ▪ Comfortable (private house, weekly maid)

    ▪ Wealthy (elegant residence, live-in housekeeper)

    ▪ Fabulous (estate with staff)

    When shopping, you can pay for anything from a lifestyle below yours without worrying about the cost, if the keeper says it’s available.

    To purchase something of your own lifestyle, roll+CHA.  On a hit, you can pay for it, though on 7–9 pick one:

    ▪ You got it second-hand or dented

    ▪ It took longer than you wanted to find a good price

    ▪ You are temporarily out of cash, until you have a chance to replenish

    On a miss, maybe you were robbed or ripped off.

    To purchase something of the next higher lifestyle, the keeper will tell you one or more of the following:

    ▪ The best you can manage is a second-rate version

    ▪ Buying it will temporarily lower your lifestyle, for weeks/months/years

    ▪ You’ll have to get a loan first, maybe from __

    You cannot afford anything from two lifestyles above yours.

  5. colin roald I definitely like that approach.  Quibble–in the modern Western world (including, I think, in the 1920s), Charisma doesn’t feel like the right stat.  Wisdom, maybe?  Or make it like Defy Danger, where the approach dictates the stat?  (haggling in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is +CHA, but surfing Craig’s List is +WIS?)

    Colter Hanna’s Adventure World has a wealth move that’s pretty similar, and at first glance I like it a lot.  Characters have a Wealth stat from 0 to 5 and there’s this one move:

    Barter: When you look to buy something, compare your Wealth and the Value of the purchase.

    • If the purchase’s Value is less than your Wealth, you acquire it without difficulty.

    • If the purchase’s Value is equal to your Wealth, roll+CHARM. *On a 10+, you find a steal. You acquire it without difficulty. *On a 7-9, you’ll have to take a pretty large hit. You acquire the item, but mark Wealth-1.

    • If the purchase’s Value is greater than your Wealth, you’re going to have find another way to obtain it.

    When you find someone to buy something of yours with a Value greater than your Wealth, increase your Wealth to that value.

  6. Colin, I’m going OT here, however give a chance to “Trails of Cthulhu” rpg. I love the gumshoe system regarding investigation based adventures / campaigns. Also, lot of interesting ideas (about how to manage investigations) even if you plan to use an PbtA mechanic.

  7. Jeremy Strandberg, I don’t have a WIS stat: I’ve got Education, Perception, Charm, and Sanity. (Also STR & SPD.) Perception in a Cthulhu game is already going to be super important, so I’m going with Charm as the stat that covers “understanding of people”.

    (Sanity also covers understanding people, but in a different way.)

    That Adventure World move is interesting. I’ll look it up. I don’t expect Cthulhu investigators to sell treasure very often, though.

  8. If you wanted proven, tested rules, ignore me. 

    If wealth (WEA?  WET?  MON?  DGH?) were a stat, players could focus on improving their cash flow over time at the expense of developing their ‘personal’ stats.  Which feels appropriate.  Then you could have moves like :

    ACQUIRE :  When you shop somewhere where your desired pricy good or service is available, roll + WEA.  On a 10+ you acquire it.  On a 7-9, choose one :

    * It either isn’t available after all or you do not have funds  on hand to secure it

    * You secure it, but become OVERCHARGED (debility) in the process.  If you are already OVERCHARGED you may not pick this option.

    On a miss something happens – the GM will tell you what.  It’s doubtful you’ll like it.

    SOCIAL GRACE (2-5 move for Dilettante \ Heiress) When making the PARLAY move you may use WEA instead of CHA.

    Does this mean the broke detective sometimes manages to charter a flight from New York City to deep within the Amazon?  Sure.  And conceivably he might, as much as a burger jockey in his situation might scrap together enough dough to do it.  Like a wizard in DW might slug the chief of the city guard and knock him cold.  A good player could mentions ‘favors the pilot owes me’ or somesuch.  The P.I.’s much more likely to get a miss though than a rich character and end up in a tough spot to make The Continental Op jealous.

  9. The current draft of BSR, if I ever finish it, simplifies a bit further:

    When you make a purchase that is unusual, strange, or not part of your normal lifestyle, the GM may choose one or more:

    -Someone takes notice

    -You have to make some compromise to get it

    -It comes with strings attached

    When you want to make a purchase that is beyond your means, the GM will tell you one or more requirement:

    -You’ll need a loan, maybe from ___.

    -You’ll have to wait, at least till ___.

    -You’ll have to sell ___ to get it.

    Basically as I see it, the only time money matters in CoC is when it gets you in trouble. Most people already have an idea how people in various income brackets live, so it’s more useful to prompt a conversation with the GM than try to lay out levels of wealth and move between them.

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